Two Ukrainian officials arrested on television for suspected corruption

KIEV (Reuters) - Ukrainian police entered a televised government meeting in Kiev on Wednesday and, in front of the cameras, arrested two high-ranking officials on suspicion of corruption.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said the two men, the head of the state emergency services and his first deputy, were detained for alleged graft involving off-shore companies.

The two men were led from the room in handcuffs in what was clearly a staged move to reap maximum publicity for the government’s drive against corruption.

“When the country is at war and when we are counting every penny, they steal from people and the state. This will happen to everyone who breaks the law and sneers at the Ukrainian state,” said Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk.

Avakov later told journalists that it had been decided to carry out the detentions at the government meeting “as a preventive vaccination against all those corrupt people who sadly number many among us in power”.

There was no immediate word from the two arrested officials or their lawyers.

Yatseniuk’s government is at pains to show it is sparing no efforts to carry out painful reforms and stamp out deep-rooted corruption so as to go on receiving Western aid to help the near-bankrupt economy recover from years of mismanagement and a conflict with Russian-backed separatists in the east.

The aid, which amounts to $40 billion over four years, includes $17 billion from the International Monetary Fund, other credit from Western donors and about $15 billion in hoped-for debt-restructuring.

Yatseniuk announced that large-scale investigations had been launched against high-ranking state officials and punitive action had been taken against high-ranking officials in the tax police, the customs service, the state fiscal service, the railways and other state companies.

He said he had also given permission for investigations to be carried out in the cabinet of ministers.

“Attempts to further steal from the country and avoid responsibility are doomed,” he said.

Additional reporting by Natalya Zinets and Pavel Polityuk; Writing by Richard Balmforth; Editing by Crispian Balmer